Smart Places – A Competitive Advantage for Location Brands

We tend to think that everything is moving online and digital, but that’s not always the case. It might be true that we don’t buy music in CD stores anymore, or that we hold a business meeting in an online conference room. But there are some things we still do in “real life” to interact with “location brands” – such as shopping centres, hospitals, restaurants, hotels, and public open spaces.

The leading location brands integrate technology into those physical locations so they become “smart places”. This technology, often falling under the IoT (“Internet of Things”) banner, tracks people moving through the location, and uses this information to improve their experience.

A recent research report from Altimeter reviewed some of these smart places, to see how well location brands were using technology to enhance their CX, or customer experience.

If you’re a consumer, you might find research mildly interesting. If you’re an organisation with a physical location, this is essential reading!

What is a smart place?

First, let’s be clear about what Altimeter means by a “smart place”:

“A physical space – public or private, indoors or outdoors – where connected, sensing technology is used to gather insights into the actions, intent, and behavior of people in it to support customer experience. Smart places can be ‘active’ when people opt-in; ‘passive’ when people’s actions are tracked and their behavior intuited in an unobtrusive way or without their knowledge; or a combination of the two.”

As you can see, this is quite a broad definition, and covers many physical locations, from commercial buildings (such as shopping centres) to entertainment precincts to public spaces.

Let’s narrow our focus now to retail spaces, although everything we cover here applies equally to other smart places.

Use Cases

Let’s look at seven areas – four for consumers and three for the businesses serving those consumers – where we can use smart place technology to enhance CX.


Smart places detect where you are, track your movements, and give you access to different areas of the location. For example, visitors to Disney Resorts wear a “MagicBand” that give them fast check-in, access to their hotel room, entrance into theme parks, and so on.


Smart place technology helps you find your way around. For example, you might use Google Maps for external navigation, but some companies also offer an enhanced “indoors” version that helps you find your way around a large space.

Personalised Content

Smart place technology can personalise your experience, providing content, offers and assistance based on your individual preferences. In the future, AI will become sophisticated enough to even predict your future behaviour, and tailor the experience based on your future preferences!


One of the most common uses of smart place technology is – and will continue to be – for payment. We already have payments that don’t need credit cards (by using wearables, for example), and that will soon extend to biometric identification. The leading location brands are already experimenting with checkout-free experiences.

Asset Tracking

Turning our attention now to the businesses that serve the customers in a smart place, one popular use of this technology is for tracking resources – such as retail stock, vehicles, or medication in hospitals. This is most commonly done now with physical tags on the assets, but advances in AI and computer vision will mean resources won’t need tagging.

Employee Enablement

An obvious extension is to track your most important asset: your people. By tracking their location, smart place technology can simplify access, personalise their experience, and assist with wayfinding. It can also monitor them at finer levels – for example, to monitor how often staff in hospitals wash their hands.


The six areas we’ve considered above apply to individuals, but smart place technology can also be used to collect and aggregate data to conduct useful analytics – for example, measuring foot traffic in stores, detecting potential problems (such as shoplifting), and optimising employee productivity (for example, by reducing lost time walking from one place to another).

It’s Not Too Late!

The Altimeter report identifies some challenges with adopting some of this smart place technology – for example, updating skills, managing privacy concerns, getting consent, and investing in expensive infrastructure.

But these challenges also form a natural barrier to everybody jumping on the band wagon. The market is still new and not very mature, so if you get on board now – even in a small way – it gives you a competitive advantage.

Read the full Altimeter report here


What Next?

Scroll to Top